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Small Businesses Not Afraid of Trade War

Sarah Kuper

The day after Thanksgiving is generally known as the shotgun start to the Christmas shopping season.  National consumer and retail agencies are releasing their spending predictions but there is another side to the holiday shopping experience.


Sitting atop a hill on Evansville’s west side is Opie and Eleanor’s boutique – a shop so filled with Christmas spirit that if you picked it up and gave it a shake snow would swirl and a Christmas carol would tinkle out.

Shop owner Gretchen Rutledge described her store’s array of holiday home décor, candles, handmade soaps and accessories this way, “I like to say we are here for gift-giving and gracious living .”  

Seemingly a world away is the busy Green River Road retail corridor with its shopping mall and auto dealerships, and farther still is the big box mecca of Burkhart Road.

The two shopping landscapes are different in almost every way, even the language.  Superstores like Walmart and Target have words about “convenience” and “saving money” right in their slogans.

There are six fewer days between Black Friday and Christmas this year. That, plus uncertainty caused by headlines about trade wars, interest rates and impeachment have economists questioning what holiday spending may look like this year. 

Credit Steve Burger

Cary Gray runs Rare Bird boutique on Lincoln Avenue – a boutique also selling soaps, candles and dinnerware plus some clever, even inappropriate greeting cards.

Her level of concern over the short shopping season? She said, “You know what, I hadn’t even thought about it – thanks for letting me know now I will start to freak out about it – actually no, I don’t think it will make any difference to us.”

While the National Retail Federation reports things may be particularly precarious for small businesses, these shop owners aren’t worrying about tariffs and shipping prices because they keep their shelves full of local goods.

“We have a lot of small makers, at least 80% are women makers,” Gray said. Rutledge added, “I love that I’m able to use local artisans and made in the USA”

“Door buster deals” and “flash sales” aren’t terms used by these small boutiques. They have their own vocabulary for the ways they draw customers in.

“Open houses are always fun here, we have wonderful snacks and coffee we are going to have some giveaways, some drawings," Gray said.

Small local shops have always had a distinct charm separating them from national superstores but their smaller advertising budgets and limited inventory has had its disadvantages.

Rutledge said what she lacks in advertising space, she makes up for with relationships. Opie and Eleanor’s doesn’t have a catchy slogan but instead a rhyme about gift giving and gracious living.